It is an election year at City Hall in Toronto and two recent regressive city council decisions have convinced me that in 2018 we are long overdue for a wholesale purge of a large number of members on Toronto city council. Specifically, it is time to replace any incumbents who are running again in the Danforth and Beaches wards east of the DVP.
Within the last few weeks, Toronto city council has considered two simple civic innovation items that should have been easy for council to approve, with minimal restrictions; laneway housing and free-floating, car-share parking.
Neither of these items should have been controversial, as both concepts have a long history of success in other Canadian cities. In the case of the car-share parking concept, the Toronto proposal was only to conduct an 18 month pilot program.
Laneway homes have been allowed in Vancouver for over a decade. They are easy to permit and build under “as of right” zoning and have resulted in over 3,000 brand new low density apartments being built in existing transit-served neighbourhoods since 2009. Other Canadian cities like Victoria and Ottawa have even gone further, allowing their residents to build new garden suites or coach house apartments on their properties. Those units are not restricted to properties with just laneway access.
Toronto and East York councillors should have embraced at least the Vancouver model for laneway homes. Instead, legacy councillors fretted about parking access and privacy concerns for residents who mostly live within one kilometre of existing streetcar and subway services. As with earlier city hall blunders, like food trucks and restaurant size restrictions along sections of Queen Street East, too many members of Toronto city council insisted on layering on more restrictions and then sent the laneway housing file back to staff for even more changes.
The proposed free-floating, car-share parking pilot would have allowed local residents using services like Car2Go the option to pick up and drop off those vehicles on residential streets near their homes. As always, this proposal was “restricted to death” through the tinkering of our local councillors––and now Car2Go has decided to leave Toronto on May 31. It will be relocating its car share vehicles to Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary where residential street parking has been permitted for years.
Toronto claims that it wants to be an innovative “world-class” city, that can compete with its global peers, but whenever presented with opportunities to follow existing models for services that have proven to work well in other cities, our current councillors’ responses are too often reduced to a ‘what is the least we can do at the last possible moment?’ default.
Recently departed Toronto city manager, Peter Wallace, described Toronto City Hall as a place with a “slavish devotion to the status quo.” Given recent events, it is hard for me to disagree.